St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church, considered the mother church for black Catholics in Washington, gets its first black pastor tomorrow. The Rev. Russell L. Dillard, 42, a convert to Catholicism, will be installed during an 11 a.m. mass at the 132-year-old church at 15th and V streets NW.
Dillard, a native Washingtonian, takes over St. Augustine from the Rev. John J. Mudd, who was appointed late last year to run Archbishop Carroll High School.
With 1,362 families as registered members, St. Augustine's is one of the largest churches in the Washington archdiocese, which consists of the District and five suburban Maryland counties. The church is known internationally for its gospel choir and black music and was one of the first Catholic churches in the diocese to offer a gospel mass.
Dillard's appointment by Cardinal James A. Hickey follows a racially tumultuous two years for the diocese. The departure of two black priests from the diocese to form independent churches raised concerns among some black Catholics that their needs were not being met by a predominantly white Catholic hierarchy.
After Mudd's departure, the St. Augustine parish lobbied hard to ensure that Mudd would be replaced with a black pastor. The Washington diocese has 11 black priests: five pastors, two associate pastors, three chaplains and one on the diocesan staff.
Dillard converted from Baptist to Catholic in 1961. He was ordained in 1978 and began his priestly career as an associate pastor at St. Anthony's in Northeast Washington. He later moved to St. Martin of Tours in Northwest, where he served as pastor from 1987 to 1990.
He has been a chaplain at Howard University and heads the diocesan committee on social concerns.